Daniel Jeremiah is a former NFL scout and starting quarterback for Appalachian State. He's also a current writer for NFL.com, which took him to the Manning Passing Academy last week to watch some of college football's best quarterbacks. His observations are important to process not only because of his experience both on the field and as a talent evaluator, but because they are our biggest clues so far as to how this crop of quarterbacks will differ from their previous incarnations in 2012 and how the more objective views of them leading into the draft with differ from the consensus beliefs about their draft stock.
This year's class of quarterbacks should be one of the best in recent memory Here are some of the highlights:
Matt Barkley, USC
"His arm has gotten much stronger. He was able to drive the ball with more authority than he has in the past three years."
Draft Clue: As I wrote here, arm strength has been one of the least impressive aspects of Barkley's game on film. If this bears out on the field, his spot as the No. 1 quarterback in the class will be solidified.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee
"Tennessee QB Tyler Bray is much taller than I anticipated. Bray has the same body type and laid-back personality as Matt Leinart, but he can spin the ball much better."
Draft Clue: The height is a big plus, and don't underestimate how much the element of surprise will cause it to elevate his stock. If Jeremiah was surprised, the scouting community at-large will be too. I don't think any quarterback wants his personality compared to Leinart at this point. If Bray can lead Tennessee to a big season, no one will mind that he is a laid-back quarterback, even though teams tend to prefer more fiery leaders at quarterback.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
...Exactly the same height as Barkley, but he isn't nearly as thick as his fellow senior. His deep-ball accuracy was the only flaw during the sessions. Arm strength isn't the issue -- he just needs to get more air under the ball. That's very correctable.
Draft Clue: Wilson has an uphill battle to pass Barkley no matter how much he outplays him this year. Durability is important, and a more slight frame doesn't help his case here. Jeremiah pointing out that Wilson's deep ball accuracy is "very correctable" is one to file away if Wilson is getting dinged for it next spring before the draft.
Geno Smith, West Virginia
"...very live arm and his footwork was much better than I anticipated... has a great personality and he's very focused on taking his play to a new level in 2012"
Draft Clue: Again, Jeremiah's comments about what he observed vs. what he expected is key. Smith might be perceived as a quarterback with sloppy footwork, but Jeremiah's note downplays that issue. That Smith's drive was apparent to Jeremiah bodes well for his ability to improve his draft stock this year.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
...at least 6-5 and he could easily carry 240 pounds on his frame... outstanding arm strength... accuracy and touch underneath are both works in progress entering his junior season.
Draft Clue: With a strong class of seniors led by Barkley, Wilson and Smith, Mettenberger sounds like the classic underclassman who jumps early and falls in the draft. Size and arm strength are nice, but if he can't make accurate short throws, he'll be a very limited pro quarterback.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
This junior is a good inch shorter than senior counterparts Barkley and Wilson, but he matched them throw for throw. I was surprised at how powerful his arm was on the deep ball.
Draft Clue: Lack of height can overshadow play on the field at draft time—just ask Russell Wilson. Look for Murray to build buzz among draftniks, but have trouble breaking into the first round if he declares for the 2013 draft.